Every week, 12 teenagers gather at the Emergency Operations Center in Tooele City to learn what a career in law enforcement would be like.
The teens wear uniforms, take classes from police officers and other instructors, and participate in personal fitness training. They can even accompany police officers on ride-alongs — provided they meet all the requirements and pass through a probationary period. It’s all part of Tooele’s new Law Enforcement Exploring Program.
Chartered by the Boy Scouts of America, the Law Enforcement Exploring Program offers hands-on learning experiences for young men and women ages 14-20. According to an information flyer from the Tooele City Police Department, the purpose of the program is “to educate and involve youth in police operation, to interest them in possible careers in criminal justice, and to build a mutual understanding between the police and the youth in our community.”
“The program educates the youth on all avenues of the law enforcement system — it could be EMS, courts … it basically covers all aspects,” said police Sgt. James May, who acts as the advisor for Post 2795. “It teaches them and gives them a one-on-one understanding of what it’s like to work in those fields.”
Explorers can remain in the program as long as they want — as long as they meet the age and other requirements. Once they turn 21, they can apply to become an officer.
The other requirements for joining the program include passing a background check, successfully completing an interview, and maintaining a 2.0 minimum GPA. Applicants should also understand admission into the program means a minimum 4-hour time commitment and plan on attending class every week, May said.
Tooele City began offering the program earlier this year. The first class took place in June with eight students. Today, the post has grown to include 12 teens, both young women and young men, divided into three squads. Each participant is required to attend the weekly four-hour class.
“We do a drill instruction and uniform inspection, similar to what you’d do in the military,” May said. “The reason for that is we have a color guard for the flag, so we teach them right face, left face, things like that.”
After the instruction portion of the meeting is over, assistant post advisor and police Cpl. Nick Cutler leads the group in personal fitness exercises.
As the community outreach officer, Cutler also frequently brings Law Enforcement Explorers to local events. Explorers can help with crowd control and directing traffic, as well as represent the department at public events.
Both Cutler and May believe the explorer program is off to a great start.
“I’m actually really impressed with the way the group has come together,” Cutler said. “That’s something I think is very unique. We’ve got kids from all different dynamics, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and they’re meshing together and becoming a team. It’s been really fun to see them become friends, even.”
Prior to joining the Tooele City Police Department 12 years ago, May worked as an officer for Sandy City, where he had an opportunity to be an assistant advisor for the explorer post there. When Chief Ron Kirby decided to start the program in Tooele City in June, May volunteered to help.
“It’s (the program is) good for us, and it gives us an opportunity to see some of these young adults grow,” he said. “I actually love it. … I like working with the youth and making sure they succeed.”
Nineteen-year-old Jarrod Kenney was one of the original members of the post. He aspires to become a law enforcement officer one day and was one of the program’s first applicants.
“I love it. It’s awesome,” he said. “It really opens your eyes to seeing what law enforcement is really about. … It’s all been a great experience. We’ve gone to the range and gone shooting, we’re learning defensive tactics, we’ve … gone to a couple of parades, we learned about traffic stops a couple weeks ago, and I’m one of the four that’s on the honor guard.”
Although Kenney loves every aspect of the program from classroom work to personal training, his absolute favorite part is leading one of the post’s three squads.
“I love being a squad leader. … I do uniform inspections, I do drill and ceremonies; I help Sgt. May with whatever he needs,” he said.
Although at the moment Tooele’s Law Enforcement Exploring Program only has 12 members, May plans to open up additional spots over time. Right now, he is looking to accept eight more youth into the program, bringing the post to 20 members.
When construction on the new Tooele City police building is complete, May hopes to be able to expand the program even further.
“I want to be able to get as many kids as possible (into the program) that want that experience, to learn … and expand their views of what law enforcement and criminal justice is all about,” he said.
Kenney encouraged any interested person between 14 and 20 years old to apply for the open positions.
“It’s just a really good program,” he said. “If anybody’s interested, I highly recommend it.”
Another advantage of the Tooele program is its cost. While it’s common for other cities to charge its explorers periodic fees, Tooele City Police Department is striving to keep its program free. Instead of collecting fees, it relies on donations to pay for uniforms and other expenses, May said.
To help pay for uniforms and program expenses, the local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Tooele Women of the Moose recently donated $800 collectively to the program.
Ron Corey, president of the Tooele Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie, said donations from the local aerie and the auxiliary to the aerie totaled $400.
“We like to give to the community, amongst our national charities that we do,” Corey said. “We want to see the program progress and hopefully make the community a safer place.”
Donations from the Tooele Women of the Moose also totaled $400, including two $100 donations from individual members Irene Smith and Cheryl Shoop, said Debbie Tolces, who organized the fundraiser benefiting the explorers and also acts as the Women of the Moose committee chair.
Tolces was excited to hear how the program introduced youth to careers in law enforcement.
“We felt like it was a good program and something that we as the Women of the Moose wanted to support to further advance the kids,” she said.